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SANDBOARDERS HEAD OVER HEELS WITH SPORT.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - The way Dr. Dune sees it, sandboarding is an ancient sport.

Elephants, he swears, have been sliding down sand dunes on their bellies in Namibia, Africa, as long as there have been sand dunes in Namibia. Archaeologists have unearthed sliding devices in Egypt as old as Jesus Christ.

So you could call the sport's booming popularity a renaissance.

"Sandboarding has been around longer than surfing or snowboarding," says Lon Beale, aka Dr. Dune and the owner of the world's first and only sandboard park, the Sand Master, in north Florence. "But sandboarders were insulated."

Not this weekend, they're not. If rhododendrons are too old-school and motorcycles too mainstream, head north on Highway 101 until you reach the outskirts of Florence, for the 2004 Sand Master Jam.

Here, sandboarding's sparse collection of "professional" riders converge on the coastal city for one of the country's few sandboarding competitions.

The sport is something of a cross between snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding, fans say.

The latest board is a made of a hybrid thermal plastic, like Formica but harder and slicker - to avoid sticking in the sand, Beale says. There's a neoprene foot strap system that keeps the rider's feet locked in.

Some people shuttle from valley to peak in all-terrain vehicles. Others hoof it. Once they overcome the initial drag, the boards practically glide on air, gravity plunging them downward at speeds of up to 50 mph.

There are few places more suited for the sport than the central Oregon Coast, which boasts the wind-sculpted peaks of the Dunes National Recreation Area, a 40-mile stretch of sand that rises 500 feet above sea level in places.

Once the Internet allowed sand enthusiasts to connect, the sport took off, Beale says. Last summer, the park rented 6,000 sandboards, twice the business he did in 2002.

The megastars of the sandboarding world began arriving Friday. Josh Tenge, 25, is a former world champion sandboarder and one of the few riders in the United States who considers himself full time.

"I stumbled into it five years ago," says Tenge, an Olalla, Wash., resident. Then an avid snowboarder, he likens himself to "Happy Gilmore," the fictional movie character played by Adam Sandler who applied his hockey skills to golf. "I set out to be a snowboarder; now I'm a sandboarder."

Tenge says it's harder to ride a sandboard because of the obvious added friction, compared with snow or water.

But with the latest board technology, it's easy to overcome, he says. With the right mixture of good sand and appropriate wax, applied to the board's underside, "it's just like snow," he says.

Tenge got into snowboarding too late to rise to the top, he says, in his early teens. "Nowadays you've got to start at 4."

But with sandboarding, he's become a sort of pioneer: if not one of the earliest riders, the first to pull off a backflip, or a 40-foot "shiftie."

"It's my chance to set a mark," he says. "Everything I do has never been done before on sand. That's all I need to motivate."

Thirty-year-old Jason Ford of Hollywood got into sandboarding eight years ago, he says, when he met Beale at a Southern California coffee shop. Americans are spoiled with plenty of places to surf, skate and snowboard, he says, which is the only thing holding sandboarding back from a full-fledged explosion. But as attention spans continue to wane, it won't be long.

"It has a tremendous chance of becoming super-big," Ford says.

Erik Johnson, a 27-year-old rider who holds the world record for speed at 51 mph, agrees, noting the sport's accessibility. Fully equipped boards sell for $139, far less than a snowboard rig or surfing outfit would run.

The professional snowboarder adds that it's a good way to stay in shape during the off-season.

"It keeps me in cross-training during the summer," he says.

As he spoke, a group of teenagers wandered back from the dunes to return their rented boards. It was Trevor Smith's first time.

"I have sand in places I never knew I had," the 18-year-old Toledo resident said. "It was a cool experience."

As Dr. Dune finalizes plans for a second sandboard park, in the Mojave Desert, he hopes more kids like Smith will take to the burgeoning sport.

"Sand is cheap; it's easy to maintain," Beale says. "I expect to see sand parks everywhere in the next few years."

CAPTION(S):

Jonny Hanson of Eugene works his way down the dunes at Sand Master park in Florence. A group of sandboarding enthusiasts is holding the 2004 Sand Master Jam this weekend. INSIDE Rhododendron Festival: Anna Balcom is crowned the Rhododendron Queen as Florence festivities get under way / Digest, B3
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Title Annotation:Recreation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 22, 2004
Words:791
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